Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Review: 'Nashville' Episode Four

Putting on a good face.
The big take away from tonight's episode of ABC's Nashville, is how little actually happens in the show. And yet, there's so much going on, so much bouncing from character to character, it's not immediately noticeable. All story lines inch forward, but only just so.

The show opens with a bang (har har) as we find Rayna and Deacon in bed together. But wait! It's a dream Rayna wakes from as boring Teddy walks into the room. Her face shows the confusion and shame that halmark her relationship with Deacon. The main story line this week on the Rayna front revolves around a fundraiser for Teddy at "the country club" where Rayna will perform, despite the negative feelings she harbors for the Belle Meade bimbos she grew up with, including Peggy (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) who Teddy seems a little too eager to greet. The night of the fundraiser, Deacon shows up late and takes a generally undeserved tongue lashing from Lamar. Deacon opens fire on Teddy (Everybody knows you're a straw man for Lamar!) and Rayna tells the boys to shut up. The performance is super unpleasant. Deacon stares down Teddy from the stage, who's swapping glances with Peggy of a different nature. And after? We get another vaguely written scene between Deacon and Rayna. She asks how he could put "us" in this situation and he asks "which us?" Tears are shed. Back at home, Rayna tells Teddy she's going to fire Deacon. But wait! At the end of the show, Teddy, who is becoming less boring and more scummy, meets up with Peggy in a secluded park type place and they discuss coming clean with something. He insists "no." Is it an affair? I'm hoping it's a shared cookie jar collection like that one episode of 30 Rock.

Switching over to the Juliette channel, she's in denial about the aftermath of her shoplifting scandal. Consider this episode rock bottom for her. Juliette bombs out on what was supposed to be a mea culpa interview with Good Morning America and storms out after 1) claiming that she was trying to keep the nail polish from slipping out of the basket and forgot to pay, and 2) refusing to answer any questions about her mother. On that last one, you really can't blame her. It's a messy relationship. Juliette's mom cooks her some goodwill mac and cheese and Juliette freaks out and empties her mom's bag expecting to find stolen items from the house. Guess what she doesn't find. Tears are shed. Oh, and sponsors pull out of her tour effectively shutting it down. So, what do you do when you hit rock bottom? Call someone else to come share your misery, i.e. post fundraiser brawl Deacon.

Meanwhile in East Nasty, Scarlett stresses about the publishing deal and just as she starts to make out with psycho boyfriend Avery, everyone's favorite third wheel and Zachary Levi lookalike, Gunnar busts in with the news that they got the deal. Hugs all around! Except for Gunnar. Womp womp. But here's where things get spicy. While Gunnar and Scarlett get a tour of the publishing office, he meets Hailey, an office assistant... and you know... yogurt-related flirting and what not. That night Hailey and her boss take Gunnar, Scarlett, and Avery to dinner at Watermark in the Gulch (hiyo local readers!) and Avery gets weird when Scarlett spins some songwriting philosophy at the table and then talks up his band. He bails pronto and in his most convincing turn as a hipster, says to her outside the restaurant, "My music speaks for itself!" Garbo– I mean, Avery, walks home alone. Next shot: Gunnar and Hailey the next morning in bed. Character-wise, I think it's weird because Gunnar's got a kicked puppy dog thing going on, all achey for Scarlett, so him jumping into bed with a girl he just met and the self satisfied look on his face the next day walking her to her car cheapens his character. Example, even when Jim was dating the purse girl on the Office, you knew his heart wasn't in it. It was always with Pam. Anyhoodle, oh snap Scarlett catches them on the walk of shame because she drove to his house for some reason. One lunch with uncle Deacon later, she asks Avery to support her the way she's supported him and the little pisser says "I'm trying" and slinks away, presumably to not wash his hair.

Basically, we got a lot more of what we already knew: Rayna's confused. Juliette's unlikeable. Avery's jealous. Scarlett's sickeningly loyal. Teddy's even shadier than we thought, real estate deal aside. And we didn't even get a song until about 45 minutes into the episode.

Apparently there will be fisticuffs next week. Can't wait.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Typing Karaoke

I regret peaking at the keyboard during elementary school when we were supposed to be learning to type without looking. Maybe if I'd applied myself, I'd have higher scores on Typing Karaoke.

Typing Karaoke is a cool little flash game that made its round yesterday on the interwebs. The premise is basically that instead of singing along with a song, you type the lyrics. It's maddening and sometimes impossible, but lots of fun. The game has eight songs ranging from "Call Me Maybe" and "Love Lockdown" to "Creep" and "Home." For a while I was worried my high score would be from "OMG" by Usher, but it turns out I can type to Bon Iver like nobody's business. Try to beat my 2182 on "Skinny Love." Also see if you can do worse typing to "Sexy and I Know It" than 555. Enjoy the rest of your day.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Dawes Tweets 'New Record is Done'

Occasionally Twitter bears some pretty sweet fruits. Today, if you were paying attention, you might have caught Dawes sending out a tweet that said they've finished their new record. No more details beyond that, but in a steady stream of food-related Instagrams and political douchebag-ery, this is definitely news worth tweeting about.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Review: 'Nashville' Episode Three

Stepping into something.
On week three of ABC's new drama Nashville, we find the characters all perched on a ledge, facing decisions that involve them stepping into a situation from which there's little chance of stepping out. Life is precarious on the ledge. They all know that one foot forward leads straight down.

To start, there's Deacon, who is still living in Juliette Barnes's crosshairs. He has a hesitance about Juliette. She wants to get him under an exclusive contract to come and play with her. He doesn't quite know how to handle her, but keeps letting himself be further reigned in by answering her call to come and record last week's "Undermine," and then heading back to her place for the night. Deacon's got his toes hanging out there, and that maybe in part because of Rayna. After their emotion-dredging performance at the Bluebird Cafe, Rayna knows that going out on an intimate acoustic tour with Deacon could lead to the situation many a country song has been written about– cheatin'!  The most insight we get on this predicament is a revelation from Rayna's sister Tandy that their mother was involved for a decade with a singer songwriter (which is why Lamar disapproves of Rayna's career). Tandy says of their mother's boyfriend and Lamar, that it was like "the two men together made a whole marriage." Sound familiar much? What's more, Teddy and Rayna are hemorrhaging money and Lamar is willing to shell out a half million attached to a laundry list of career-related stipulations on Rayna's part.

Then there's the ongoing saga of the Bluebird trio. Gunnar and Scarlett go to the studio to record their demo with Watty, and Scarlett flat out chokes. Gunnar tells Avery that he thinks Scarlett might be scared Avery will leave her if she succeeds, so she needs to throw herself into this or face being replaced by another girl.

And finally, Juliette's druggie mom shows up at the studio and later at her house because she's got nowhere else to go. Juliette absolutely does not want to get tangled up with her mother.

It's a mixed bag as far as which characters take the step over the ledge. With some coaxing from Avery via "if not for yourself, do this for me," Scarlett heads back to the studio with Gunnar. Juliette is forced to take in her mother after an incident at the bus depot downtown. But, Rayna and Teddy ignore the check (for now) and Deacon somehow summons the chutzpah to turn down Juliette.... but not after Rayna asks to meet with him. In what was the most cryptically written scene of the show, Rayna basically says she's confused and she should probably be letting Deacon move on with his life. What that means for the tour? It's probably off, but I don't really know. What I do know is that Deacon and music are the same thing, according to Rayna. Whatever that means.

This episode revisited a few songs we've already heard, like "Undermine" and "I Should Have Known Better," but once again knocked it out of the park music-wise with the closing number between Gunnar and Scarlett, "Fade Into You." Gunnar sings to Scarlett and Scarlett sings to Avery who is in the booth chatting up Watty. Whadda dog.

Speaking of dogs, next week expect fallout from Juliette getting caught shoplifting nail polish from a Kroger.

Anyway, I thought this episode was better than last week, mostly in that it moved us along story-wise and fleshed out the characters through action v. exposition. The writing still flirts with cheesy at times (see the paragraph about Deacon being music), but with substance and movement elsewhere, it's less noticeable. We're moving and that's the important thing, folks. Stay tuned!

Stray observations:

+ I have a hard time believing that Avery doesn't have a psycho streak. He had crazy eyes when he found Gunnar and Scarlett (gasp) writing a song in their living room.

+ Teddy is way boring. He stopped by the credit union whose board he sat on and found out that they're being (gasp) audited. Trouble ahead!

+ Teddy and Rayna's kids, also known as the adorable Youtube Stella sisters, performed at a school talent show and killed it.

+ Even through the revelation about Rayna's mom, it's damn near impossible to humanize Lamar because he's so incredibly creepy, working his jaw and starting ominously at people. Yeesh.

Mr. Frosty Man : Sufjan Stevens

Because the world isn't grim and unsettling enough, please enjoy the latest from Sufjan Stevens's forthcoming Christmas album Silver and Gold, entitled "Mr. Frosty Man."

The premise: A nuclear reactor spills radioactive goo on a graveyard and zombies attack a little family who lives near by. Fortunately, the family's snowman is part Rambo. Much blood is spilled. Intestines wind up EVERYWHERE. And it's a claymation– the quintessential childhood Christmas special medium. So yeah, might need to spike your eggnog after this 2-minute Christmas bonanza of joy.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Killers Perform "All These Things That I Have Done" on Colbert

When the first track of the The Killers' debut album Hot Fuss started playing from my jog-proof portable CD player way back in 2004, it gave me my first real "WTF" moment, long before anyone started using the abbreviation. The alien buzzing and charging guitar that open "Jenny Was A Friend of Mine" sounded totally foreign. I didn't know what it was, I didn't even know if I liked it, but I stuck with that album and it's half the source of my pain when I hear The Killers these days and miss what they were (Sam's Town being the other half). If you're at all wired in a similar manner, you'll appreciate that during the band's recent appearance on The Colbert Report, they performed "All These Things That I Have Done," and that video is housed on the Colbert Nation website (also embedded above).  Needless to say, if you need direction to perfection, check it out.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Review: 'Nashville' Episode Two

I think Tom Green would have said something like "Her head is on his bum."
After a strong premiere, ABC's Nashville failed to top itself in week two. In a way, it's not unexpected. The show set up so much plot last week, it probably needed a follow up episode devoted to shading in the details of all the characters' stories, but it didn't make for anything terribly exciting.

As the show opens, the audience is dropped into a Juliette Barnes music video shoot in front of the Musica statue at the Demonbreun roundabout here in Nashville. Juliette overhears a production assistant of some sort making a dig about her music and its appeal for teenage girls. She demands he be fired. The war for Deacon rages on as Rayna's people propose that she and Deacon go on tour together booking smaller venues and singing songs from the old days, and Juliette continues her efforts to nab him for her band... or something, by giving him a $50,000 Martin guitar and wooing him in the wilds of (no doubt) rural Williamson County. They start of writing a song together in the back of her truck and wind up not. That's one of the puzzling things about Deacon. His character seems too sharp and world worn to involve himself in this type of mess, but I guess it proves that a dude can't resist a topless blonde. Back in the Bluebird, Rayna's producer Watty offers to produce a demo for Scarlett and Gunnar after last week's duet, but Scarlet is reluctant because perhaps she feels guilty that hipster boyfriend Avery can't make it out of the 5 Spot, and all she had to do to attract some attention was crack open her notebook. Teddy's campaign basically serves an expository function in this episode as both Teddy and Rayna are interviewed for the "vulnerability study" and we learned about Teddy's bad real estate deal and the fluid start and end dates of Rayna's relationships with Deacon and her husband. Fun fact: Deacon had a drug problem.

So as you can see, there were no new twists or plot developments in this episode, which is bad because it allows some of the show's weaker spots to gain visibility. There's a logic gap in Juliette's story, for example, regarding what exactly she wants from Deacon, beyond a guitar player or a way to screw over Rayna. My best guess is that it has to do with her desire to be taken seriously outside of the teenage girl demographic, but we don't really know why she wants that, only that it's an emphasized theme. This frustration over perception leads to two of the night's most cringe-worthy lines. Juliette first tells Deacon, "Don't be fooled by this shiny exterior, there's more than meets the eye," and then later when she shows up unannounced at his house and says, "There's something about you that makes me want to grow up." Gross.

The other weak spot is the Bluebird triangle. They are so boring, and Scarlett seems to have barely anything more than a vague awareness that Gunnar exists, so this potential romantic cataclysm is not even that fun to watch.

To the show's credit, Nashville is developing a knack for killer final performances. After a scuffle between Rayna and Deacon earlier in the show about you can imagine who, Rayna shows up at the Bluebird to watch Deacon sing. Also present is Juliette. So when Deacon intros a talented friend who is  going to come up and sing with him, nothing is quite as sweet as Juliette getting ready to stand up and Deacon saying "Rayna Jaymes." The pair sing one of their old songs. If you're wondering why Rayna and Teddy have no chemistry, it's because it's all with Deacon. They sing together and inevitably dredge up old feelings, but it's a great moment. The lines on their faces match each other and you lament they ever split.

Overall, a lackluster showing this week. Hopefully now that all the ground work has been laid, we can get on to some actual plot. Sitting tight for now, folks.

Stray observations: 

+ Avery and Scarlett's house looks like it belongs to a nice, affluent middle aged couple living in the Belmont/Woodmont area. In other words, out of their price or taste range.

+ A shot of Teddy burning some papers and drinking is not enough intrigue to keep people watching.

+ Avery is an awful hipster.

+ The Musica statue is a terrible place to shoot a music video unless GIANT frolicking naked people are your thing.

+ Using songs actually written by Nashville songwriters is great. This week, check out Trent Dabbs and Kacey Musgraves who penned tonight's "Undermine."

The Gregory Brothers Work It Out

Debates are better as musicals. That's been the mantra of The Gregory Brothers the past three weeks as the quartet that brought us Autotune the News cranks out songified versions of the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates, all in the name of political absurdity and catchy hooks. Check out the latest from last night's town hall debate between Mittens and Barry. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

"Something Good" : Alt-J

A few weeks back I ran across a grim yet gorgeous music video for a song called "Something Good" by British indie band Alt-J. Much like the video itself, the song and the rest of the album, An Awesome Wave, is a lot to process. Beyond deciding if you love or hate singer Joe Newman's old man Marcus Mumford voice, you've got to accept the marriage of electronic and folk music, occasionally structured by 14th century monks. In any case, it's weird and addictive and I'm thinking Alt-J is about to be one of those bands people will not be able to shut up about this year. "Something Good" is true to its name. It's got some really lovely shifts and rhythms, and it's the best gateway into the rest of the album. Check it out.

Ben Gibbard Releases 'Former Lives'

Ben Gibbard's solo album Former Lives hits shelves today. If you haven't heard it, the whole thing is up on Youtube (legally!) so you can take it for a spin like I did last night. My first thought? This is definitely not a Death Cab album, and I'm also painfully aware it's not a Postal Service album so that leads me to believe that this might just be a first shot at pure Ben Gibbard. Anyway, stew on that for a while, and expect a full review of the album soon.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Review: 'Nashville' Episode One

As a longtime Nashvillian, I've been apprehensive about ABC's new drama Nashville. I was expecting a strong reaction either way, love it or hate it. That's why the most surprising part of Wednesday night's premiere for me was how neutral I felt about it.

Out of the gate I'll say the writing was good, the characters were mostly down to Earth, and Nashville mercifully didn't come off as some kind of hick town. The show also didn't really feel as if it had to be set in Nashville. For locals watching, shots of the skyline, iconic buildings, and Little Jimmy Dickens sightings are fun, but they feel mostly like props.

To give a brief synopsis of the episode, we meet country legend Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton) at a point in her career where she's not bringing in the bucks she used to. Her album and tour are flailing financially and her label is pressuring her to co-headline a tour with up-and-coming country princess Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) who is absolutely unlikable as she disses Jaymes and attempts to seduce any male in her sight line. In this episode we also meet Rayna's father, Lamar Wyatt (Powers Boothe), who has to be one of the most fantastically evil SOBs on television. Whilst looking for a puppet candidate to run for mayor, he lights on Rayna's husband Teddy, played by Without a Trace's Eric Close, also known as the whitest man on Earth. Manipulation ensues. Then there are the peripheral characters– Rayna's producer Randy (seduced by Barnes), Rayna's guitar player Deacon (about to be seduced by Barnes), and a love triangle of twenty-somethings at the Bluebird Cafe (Methinks one of them is supposed to be a hipster).

The previews would have you believe Nashville is basically Dirty, Sexy Money– all scandal, tears, and histrionics, but it's much more restrained than that. So, when Rayna's father subtly threatens to let slip to Teddy that her youngest isn't his if she doesn't support the campaign, Lamar's scary rottenness has all the room to fester instead of competing with fifteen other gasp moments. And that's a good thing because with as many characters as we met, effective and even character development is going to be tough. For example, the trio in the Bluebird Cafe remains largely a sketch. There's a waitress named Scarlett who is Deacon's niece, her kind of boyfriend Avery, an aspiring alt-country artist, and the Bluebird sound guy Gunnar who encourages and actually helps Scarlett to put her little book of poetry to music. Despite the fact that we know very little of them so far, Gunnar and Scarlett deliver the episode's best musical performance at an open mic night, as in, I'm considering buying the song off iTunes. Other songs sung on the show by Juliette and Rayna were definitely believable as current country tunes...  and somewhat forgettable.

So where does this all shake out? I think the show is good enough to stick with. Connie Britton indisputably gets who Rayna is supposed to be. Hadyen Panettiere is going to be one of those love-to-hate characters. Nashville is good but not killer, and that just might be because of all the little story strings it dangled so soon, like Declan and Rayna's suggested past or Juliette's meth head mom. It's a lot to establish. But it is a pilot. We'll see what happens.

Anyway, I'm just waiting for Belmont president Bob Fisher to pop up somewhere. That's for all you Belmont alums out there. Go Bruins.

Stray observations:

Edgehill Republic Redords = Nashville's Edgehill community + Republic Records

Lamar Wyatt and henchmen discuss building a ballpark downtown. Lordy, can't even escape the talk in TV land.

Next week I'm starting a tally of how many people say "darlin" every episode.

Nashville looks incredibly glamorous.

Rayna's daughters are definitely those cute sisters who had that Youtube video where they sang "Call Your Boyfriend" while keeping rhythm with solo cups.

Deacon look familiar? You must be a Whose Line is it Anyway fan. Chip Esten was a rotating performer.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Punch Brothers Live Sampler on Noisetrade

If you're into all things Punch Brothers lately, you'll be pleased to know that the Chris Thile lead bluegrass/folk group has a live sampler on offer over at It's four songs recorded at the Fillmore and obviously worth the download. Or better yet, you don't even have to leave this page to get it. Download thingy above.

In other news, the following two search terms brought people to the blog: "machine that helps stretch your face" and "James Mercer British accent." SEO FTW, as the kids say.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Early Days: Simon Dawes

During the time The Musically Inclined went on hiatus this spring/early summer, I developed a great love for L.A. band Dawes, which weirdly is not really reflected in this blog. Case in point: Death Cab for Cutie has a whopping 31 post tags. Well, I guess there's nothing stopping me now. In reading up on the band, I found out about an earlier incarnation, if you can call it that, called Simon Dawes featuring Taylor Goldsmith and bassist Wylie Gelber plus a couple randos. They didn't last too long, but they managed to pack in an LP,  two EPs, and opening gigs with the Walkmen and Band of Horses (to name a few) in the three-ish years they were active. There are some scattered Youtube videos out there, and only one of their EPs, Final Noise, is on Spotify. The part of Simon Dawes I like the best is how not Dawes it is (Alternative? Indie rock? Punk lite?). It's fun to hear the difference. A while ago I read an article that basically said when Simon Dawes gave out to Dawes, it was like the they started wearing boots and plaid shirts and just took on that Jackson Browne-Laurel Canyon-70s California rock-thing, and after hearing the early stuff, I'm was thinking, "My God, they kind of did." How do you just do that? How do you just drop a style and cop another one? Must take some intense dexterity.

I'd like to be disappointed or something, but I'm not. It's like running across an old high school yearbook photo. The two Simon Dawes on Spotify are hard to ignore. "If You Were A Girl" has a very mid career Beatles-esque melody. "The Awful Things" is raggedly energetic and is probably implying an influence I don't know. The lyrics are Goldsmith good, too. "I know the bookies at the corner store. They taught me secrets of the universe and how to talk to girls– a sticky situation that'll put your tongue in curls." I'm going to pick up their debut album Carnivore when I can and see how the rest goes. Check out the Spotify playlist above for those two tracks.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Adventures in Mix Making

In an earlier post I mentioned that I'm involved with some ruffians in a mix club. The basic premise is that we're taking turns creating Spotify playlists and posting them on the Facebooks. Wild stuff. My turn finally came around this week, which is good because I've been crafting this sucker for about a month and I'm damn near sick of it.

In any case, I thought I'd post it here (since who doesn't like a little injection of new music) and tell you a bit about it. (Hiyo process story!)

One of my favorite conversations has always been about how people make mixes. For me, my default mode is finding music that matches sound-wise, whether it's jangly indie guitar, or breathy songwriter stuff, or whatever. For this mix I got stuck on what I consider to be a kind of dirty guitar sound. I went through about 4 drafts of the mix before I settled. The biggest challenge was dealing with Spotify, which sadly lacks many of the tracks that I was most excited about including, like:

A Story of Nashville by Oblio
Nice by Thisway
The Silence Between Us by Bob Mould
Sewn Together by The Meat Puppets

Bad luck, right? I think I found suitable replacements. It sounded ok when I took the final incarnation for a test drive yesterday. Oh, and that's the other thing. I test drive my mixes. Before anyone else hears one, I've heard it at least twice.  One positive turn that came from the swap outs, is that I got to put "Trouble Comes Running" by Spoon back in. The song hadn't survived the first draft edits, but somehow at the end, it was just what I needed.

The name of the mix comes from a line in the second track "Good To Be" by Backyard Tire Fire. I think basic mix protocol is to use a lyric that somehow fits the mix. In this case, I picked "I Just Don't Know When to Stop" because most of the songs are upbeat and energetic, and that violates my pacing rule of putting in two slow songs in the middle and a kind of slow song second to last. I tried. Sort of did it. But you know, I hate slow songs. I want a mix, not an Ambien.

Ok. Quick word about some of the artists. The past few years, I've had a hard time making a mix that didn't include Brendan Benson. His 2005 album Alternative to Love is a mix maker's dream. "Feel Like Myself Again" is the kind of song that'll get you through a gloomy afternoon. Suzanne Vega's "Frank & Ava" is  probably one of my most listened to songs. Her lyrics are *mwuah* excellent. I also got to work in the very first Wilco song I ever knew, one that I actually had the lyrics to in my high school locker. Then there's the Candy Butchers, the most underrated pop/rock act of the 90s. Also, let's not forget Pictures and Sound, from Nashville dude Luke Reynolds. Again, you want to talk about under-appreciated, Picture and Sound's one and only album had more than a few standouts.

Anyway, that's enough about that. If you're so inclined, give it a listen. Happy Friday.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Chris Thile Wins MacArthur Grant

In a modest move to make amends for the inexplicable success of artists such as Justin Bieber and Britney Spears, the Universe awarded mandolin-playing, bluegrass-badass Chris Thile a MacArthur "genius" grant today.

Recipients of the grant are nominated anonymously and know nothing about it until they receive notice of the award. The grant of $500,000 is paid over the span of five years. What the recipients do with the money is up to them, but the intent is that it be put toward a creative vision.

The Universe could not be reached for commet, but Thile took to Twitter to express his gratitude, if not disbelief saying, "Utterly sincerely, y’all are the sweetest (if in fact this isn’t an elaborate prank orchestrated by my fellow @punchbrothers)."